The POSTman Knocks Twice: Begin the mensch

One person’s menschlichkeit was a family’s miracle.

MEYER AND Shoshana Haas with Menachem Begin in 1983. (photo credit: RABBI SAMUEL ROTHBERG)
MEYER AND Shoshana Haas with Menachem Begin in 1983.
This is a story for Hanukka. One person’s miracle is another person’s menschlichkeit, the properties that make a person a mensch.
Daniel Haas was a lone soldier, in Hebrew hayal boded, perhaps one of the first, whose entire family was in the US and he, alone, came to Israel. Coming from a warm Zionist family in Cleveland, a city noted for the presence of its Zionist rabbis, he arrived here in 1979. The concept of lone soldier had not entered the military or public parlance as widely as today.
Two years later, the lone soldier landed – in uniform – at Cleveland’s Hopkins airport to be swept into the arms of a weeping and laughing family.
It was Menachem Begin and his close aide Yehiel Kadishai who made this possible. Daniel’s mother, the late Shoshana Porath Haas, and his sister Yehudit Spero, had appealed to the prime minister to send their son back for a home visit. The inquiry doubtless went from Kadishai to the PM’s military aide, and then up and down the line, and Daniel duly appeared at Ben-Gurion Airport. In uniform.
Airport security refused to let him board in uniform. That was the rule. Daniel explained to them why he wanted to land in uniform.
He had to change back into civvies, and only at JFK in New York was he able to put on the IDF greens for the flight to Cleveland.
Jewish folklore is full of tales of mother love.
Menachem Begin, at a meeting with president Jimmy Carter, with his usual pathos and pride recalled his mother lighting Shabbat candles, a princess at that moment. (My friend Yehuda Avner describes it well in his book The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership.) Thus I will not try to describe the pride, the joy, the love which was heaped on Sgt.
Daniel Haas during the visit. Each reader can summon up his or her own memories and imagination.
It was the last time his joyous family would spend time with him. He fell in battle in the First Lebanon War in 1982. A machine gunner, he with his squad entered a lemon grove near Mansura, Lebanon, to flush out hidden enemy. It was the first day of the month of Av, the beginning of the nine-day mourning period observed before Tisha Be’av. He and four others were ambushed and killed.
His parents, one sister and an uncle were flown in from Cleveland for the funeral. The lone, young, ex-Bnei Akiva leader soldier lies on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. His Zionism brings him at the end of his young life a few yards from Theodor Herzl, the founder.
Yehiel Kadishai was, during that sad year of 1982, handed a letter from Cleveland. “We could not be there for Daniels’ funeral; we would like to come for the first yahrzeit.”
For the prime minister it was doubly sad.
The Israeli push into Lebanon had exceeded Begin’s original agreement to a 40-km.
incursion. He hid his pain at the presumed collusion between defense minister Ariel Sharon and chief of IDF staff Raful Eitan. He had to swallow the ignominy of the Falangist Christian massacre at the Sabra and Shatilla Palestine refugee camps. The Israeli military headquarters in Tyre, Lebanon, was blown up, killing 75 officers and soldiers. Outside his office, demonstrators kept a tally of Israelis casualties. Each loss he took more and more to heart.
All this on the public front, while at home, his beloved wife, Aliza, who had sustained him over the years in the underground and in the political desert, succumbed to a heart attack while hospitalized at Hadassah hospital.
To add to all this pain, he was in the US at the time (at her urging he had not canceled the trip). He returned to bury her the next day.
Menachem Begin never recovered from all these blows. Nonetheless Yehiel Kadishai had his approval to fly the other Haas family members to mark the first anniversary of Daniel’s death.
How swiftly in our history does joy turn into sorrow. The sorrow was somewhat alleviated by the fact that Menachem Begin invited the entire family to meet him at his office. He shared his pain at Aliza’s loss with the family, in the few brief words he uttered. Kadishai served the tea and cake for the group of nine.
There are two footnotes. In 1982, the Bnei Akiva emissary in Cleveland, Benny Gur, was a man whose task in the IDF reserves was to be part of the uniformed delegation which brings the sad news to families whose sons have fallen in battle. He is quoted as having said, “The good thing about being in Cleveland now is that I don’t have to break bad news to families.” But it was he whom IDF chose to tell the Haas and Spero families the news about Daniel.
Yehudit Haas Spero, now in Beit Shemesh, told me all this. And the second footnote was that she traveled with her baby. Kadishai called her later: the PM had instructed him to make sure that the state had paid for the child’s ticket as well.
Daniel’s father, Meyer Haas, now age 90, will never forget, nor will the extended Haas-Spero- Porath family ever forget the humaneness of the PM, Menachem Begin, and of Yehiel Kadishai.
One person’s menschlichkeit was a family’s miracle.
Avraham Avi-hai was a frequent visitor to Cleveland while consulting with The American Friends of Hebrew University. The above story, though, he learned as a result of Yehudit Spero writing him.
Readers can contact Dr. Avi-hai at [email protected]